Raise your hand if you adore Indian food!!
I do, I do!
If you don’t love Indian food, then you must make Butter Chicken immediately; it’s life-changing.
When Paul and I are in the mood for something special, we go to our favorite Indian restaurant in town. It’s a cuisine that we both equally enjoy and can’t get enough of. To be honest, I could probably eat at an Indian restaurant every day and not get sick of it. There are so many dishes to try with unfamiliar names. And the smell and the taste of the exotic spices are out of this world.
If you’re anything like me while eating at an Indian restaurant, you order your food and wait anxiously with anticipation of how amazing it will taste. Finally your food is served and you are starving. You add a little scented rice to your plate, and then pile on some of that smooth, velvety sauced chicken/lamb/fish dish you ordered. First you tear off a piece of pillowy naan bread to dip into your sauce. First bite is like a mysterious journey. You can’t quite put your finger on the spices, or the flavors in that sauce. They are fragrant, yet unique to Indian cuisine. Your mouth starts watering, your stomach is rumbling. You officially dig in to your creamy, rich, saucy dish. The entire time you are eating you exclaim how delicious your food is to your dining partner. Other than those few words you barely talk because you are too busy stuffing your face.
Then you finally stop, just at the brink of over stuffing yourself. You are excited that you have leftovers so you can experience this Indian food bliss again tomorrow. After you transfer your leftovers into your to-go box you use a little piece of naan to clean out the last bit of the sauce from your serving dish and spoon. It’s a good thing you ordered the naan, otherwise you would have to stick your face in the bowl to lick it. No sauce left behind! Then you sit back and exclaim once more how delicious your food was, and you say how you really should find a way to make that at home, but that it probably has some scary spices that you have to go to a special store to buy.
Guess what I learned this week, Friends: Indian cooking isn’t so scary, the spices are not hard to find, and it’s surprisingly easy to make. Okay, maybe not all Indian dishes are easy or not scary, but Butter Chicken is at least very much doable. This is very good news! I think it requires a little dance party!
When I set out to make an Indian dish it was a toss up between Butter Chicken and tikka masala. As I researched the two dishes I found out that the ingredients can vary greatly depending on which restaurant you eat at. Just like anything else each chef has his own twist on a traditional dish. The main difference between Butter Chicken and Chicken Tikka Masala is that Butter Chicken has more cream in it while Chicken Tikka Masala is more tomato-y. Crazy, I know. I decided on Butter Chicken mostly because when Paul and I first introduced his parents to Indian food, they both ordered Butter Chicken and fell in love with the dish. Several months later, they were happy to return to the restaurant because they couldn’t stop thinking about the Butter Chicken and they ordered it again!
My point is that if you are new to the world of Indian cuisine, then Butter Chicken is a good dish to start with. It’s bursting with that signature Indian flavor, yet it’s not too overpowering.
The secret about Indian cooking is the spices. Do not skip the spices here. They are essential to turning this plain old tomato-based sauce into an exciting Indian dish. All we are using is some garam masala, which is a blend of some traditional Indian spices, and some paprika. Of course there is some fresh Serrano pepper, and ginger and garlic, but that’s it. The other secret is to toast your spices to help intensify the flavors. Basically that means that you add the spices into your pan before the liquids.
Is this Butter Chicken recipe traditional? Probably not exactly traditional, but it tastes very close to the dish served at the Indian restaurant we go to, so I consider that a win!
I did make one tiny swap. Traditionally Butter Chicken is made using heavy cream or whole milk. I swapped dairy milk, for creamy cashew milk for two reasons: 1) dairy milk grosses me out 2) I have found cashew milk works wonders in place of cream or milk. I promise, you won’t miss the heavy cream at all.
This dish is everything I had hoped it would be. It has that Indian-spiced taste, and the sauce is tomato-y and velvety smooth. The chicken is marinated in yogurt and more spices, so it is nice and tender and flavorful. I suggest serving Butter Chicken with basmati rice (white for a more fluffy texture, brown for a healthier meal) to soak up all the yummy sauces. Also, if you are skilled at making naan bread (I need some more practice; teach me your ways), go ahead and be awesome and make your naan. Or ya know, buy some naan at the bakery, there is no judgement here.
Butter Chicken will definitely be a semi-regular recipe that is made in this Koch household. That’s saying a lot considering a food blogger rarely gets the chance to make the same recipe more than twice. True story.
I hope you enjoy this Butter Chicken recipe as much as we do!
- FOR THE MARINADE:
- 4 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- Juice of half of a lemon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons garam masala*
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- pinch saffron threads, crushed (optional)
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken, cut into chunks (I used a mix of chicken breast and thighs; either one will work)
- FOR THE SAUCE:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 1 to 2 serrano peppers, minced**
- 2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 6 tablespoons tomato sauce (half of an 8 ounce can)
- 2 to 4 tablespoons honey
- 1 cup unsweetened cashew milk
- salt to taste
- Fresh cilantro/coriander leaves for garnish
- Cooked basmati rice for serving (white for a more fluffy texture or brown for a healthier meal)
- FOR THE MARINADE:
- Mix the yogurt and the spices together until well combined. Add the chicken and stir until the chicken is well coated. Cover and place the chicken in the fridge to marinate 1 to 8 hours. The longer it marinates the more tender and flavorful it will be.
- When you are ready to make the Butter Chicken heat a nonstick medium skillet over medium heat.
- Add the chicken; cook until seared on one side, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side for 3 minutes. It's okay if the chicken isn't cooked through because it will finish cooking in the sauce. Remove the chicken to a plate to set aside. Reserve the chicken juices in the pan.
- FOR THE SAUCE:
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter. Saute the onion for 5 minutes, until translucent. Add the garam masala and paprika. Toast the spices for 3 minutes, or until fragrant.
- Add the serrano peppers; saute for 2 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic; saute for another minute.
- Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, until the tomato paste has deepened in color and caramelized slightly.
- Add the tomato sauce and honey. Add the reserved chicken juices from the chicken pan. Allow the sauce to come to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened slightly.Remove from the heat.
- Transfer the sauce to a blender. Add the 1 cup cashew milk. Blend until everything is smooth, about 1 minute. Return the sauce to the pan.
- Add the reserved chicken to the sauce; stir to coat. Allow the sauce to come to a simmer. Cover the pan if the sauce looks nice and thick, or keep the pan uncovered if the sauce is a little runny.
- Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the chicken is cooked all the way through. I removed a large piece of chicken and cut it in half to make sure it was cooked.
- Taste-test the sauce and add salt to taste.
- Serve the dish immediately with cooked rice on the side. Garnish with fresh cilantro/coriander leaves.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Reheat gently.
**I would rate the spice level for this dish to be mildly spicy. If you prefer even less heat, then remove the seeds from the serrano peppers or omit them completely.
Prep time does not reflect the amount of time required for the chicken to marinate.
Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver and Maunika Gowarhan
Nutrition info does not include rice or naan bread since different brands/types of rice and naan bread have different nutrition info.